Drouot Auction House Art Handlers Head to Trial in Major Theft Scandal

Dozens are accused of stealing artworks and treasures.

Drouots facade.
Image: Courtesy Google Maps.
Attorney Leon Lef Forster is defending nine Drouot staffers.<br>Photo: Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images.

Attorney Leon Lef Forster is defending nine Drouot staffers.
Photo: Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images.

Forty art handlers and six auctioneers are in court today in a theft case that has rocked Paris’s Drouot auction house. The group is accused of stealing $2.5 million dollars’ worth of artworks and other treasures that were unaccounted for in estates they were assessing, and then selling them at the Drouot. The pilfered works include a Seascape Under Stormy Sky, a Gustave Courbet landscape, as well as lithographs by Marc Chagall and Henri Matisse and a 2.08-carat diamond.

The investigation started with an anonymous tip and has been ongoing for seven years.

Founded in 1852 and boasting some seventeen sales rooms, the house has hammered down treasures like a piece of the Eiffel Tower staircase and Rimbaud’s passport along with works by Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, and Pablo Picasso, according to Forbes. The house sells some 600,000 objects annually, and reports as many as 5,000 visitors a day on its website.

Drouots facade.Image: Courtesy Google Maps.

Facade of Drouot auction house in Paris.
Image: Courtesy Google Maps.

The scandal led to the replacement of the entire staff of art handlers in 2010 and the suspension of high-level executives, reports L’Echo. The art handlers are known in the industry as “red collars,” after the upright crimson collars on their impeccable black jackets.

The staffers reportedly turned such a profit on the sales that they were able to buy Porsches and BMWs; one of them is accused of purchasing a bar.

They face charges including gang-related theft, conspiracy to commit a crime or handling stolen goods, which could result in seven years imprisonment and fines of $195,000 each, according to the Associated Press.

The case is expected to last until early April.

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